How the mighty have fallen

Wednesday, August 9, 2006

The list of athletes busted for doping seems to grow by the day. It's now reached the point where watching Sports Center reminds me of the high school biology lectures I used to sleep through.

Maybe I'm alone, but I never dreamed I'd learn as much as I have about the inner workings and secretions of my favorite ballplayers. I've come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as too much information. All those colorful descriptions of acne on Barry Bonds' back are a degree of access I don't think Orwell could have imagined.

Unfortunately, the guilty are everywhere and taking them down is often too easy and attractive for the media to pass up.

Sprinter Justin Gatlin was busted for excessive testosterone just months after tying a world record in the 100 meter dash. He follows in the well-shod footsteps of Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery, who are both sprinters, both world record holders and both disgraced after they were discovered using artificial enhancers.

And it's not just the pumped-up crowd messing with the juice.

Cyclist Floyd Landis' blood sample turned up positive just days after he won the Tour de France. Right or wrong, his case adds another plume of smoke to the reputation of seven-time winner Lance Armstrong, whose reputation some believe is ablaze.

Personally, I'm reaching the stage where my first impulse is to question greatness when I see it. I can't help but think someone who breaks a record and floors the competition is using. Proof or no proof.

Even when institutions like the World Anti-Doping Agency or Major League Baseball tout tougher testing standards and stiffer penalties, it's hard to put much faith in their promises.

I've got to believe players with millions of dollars at their disposal and mad scientists on their payroll can stay one step ahead of the game. When I first heard Bonds was rubbing a cream on his arms to administer steroids through his pores, I knew we had entered a brave new world.

So why rehash all this? Why dredge up all the dirty details? Well, partly because it's on my mind but mostly because I think it is a fascinating phenomenon. If athletes believe winning is important enough to put their lives on the line, maybe they're judging success by the wrong criteria.

It's becoming clearer and clearer that success to these men and women is the individual high. The record smashing home run season, the miracle stage in the Alps, or the impossible dash for greatness. And the coverage we see on TV just reinforces that delusion.

A sports highlight isn't really a highlight anymore unless it involves somebody doing something that has never been done before. Our culture demands the great ones to explore uncharted territory. In return these immortals are worshiped in ways that would make Zeus blush.

So should we be surprised when they start playing weird science with their body parts?

Maybe this is the ultimate example of God working in mysterious ways.

Because instead of my generation talking about the divine athleticism of our superstars, we're talking about urine samples and thyroid conditions. Oh, how human these heroes can be.

TJ Greaney is a staff reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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